Stripping A Chip Or Two Off Stripping The Gurus

Via on Apr 27, 2010

stripping

I must admit at the onset, I do not have the time nor the inclination to read the whole book Stripping the Gurus:Sex, Violence, Abuse and Enlightenment by Geoffrey Falk. I have only read the Chapter on Ramakrishna and Vivekananda, and, so far, I am hardly impressed with the shoddy scholarship and tendency toward sensationalism.

Here is a short review of the section on Vivekananda:

The examples used in this chapter are largely based on the books Ramakrishna Revisited and Vivekananda: A Reassessment by Sil P. Narasinghe.

According to Narasinghe, Vivekananda (1863-1902), one of India’s most famous Swamis, visited a whorehouse in 1884. Apparently, he only spent time in the bar, and it took place a few days after his father died and two years before he became an ordained monk in the Ramakrishna order in 1886.

Narasinghe never bothers to check or comment on the chronology and state the obvious: Vivekananda, the famous monk, visited the bar in a brothel at the age of 21 with a group of friends. But not while he was a monk. No, two years before he became a monk.

Hardly news worthy of a chapter in a book about the wild sex lives of supposedly celibate monks, swamis and gurus. Indeed, it is hardly even a character flaw, at least not in the West, not to observe celibacy prior to life as a celibate monk. Moreover, Vivekananda did not even have sex at the brothel. He only had a few drinks.

So, why is Falk making such a big deal about an incident two years before the famous Swami became a monk other than for sensationalist purposes? Is that all the dirt he can dig up on Vivekananda?

He follows this incident up with an example of Vivekananda experiencing lust while a monk. Hardly a surprise, as if all monks must be free of such feelings and struggles in order to rightfully call themselves monks.

Becoming a monk does not mean you are free of human desires. What makes you a good yogic monk is your ability, through yogic practices, to channel these desires into creative physical, mental and spiritual activities.

What makes you a bad Swami or monk is your acting out those desires by having sexual activities with yourself, your students, or others. And Falk is unable to provide any such examples from Vivekananda’s life in his book.

Vivekananda admitted he had a few drinks at the brothel, then he was thrown out by his friends because he was not interested in having sex with the girls. This incident is then used to advertise the dirty content of Falk’s controversial book: VIVEKANNDA, THE GREAT INDIAN SAINT, VISITED BROTHELS. C’mon!  This hardly qualifies as good investigative journalism.

It is also known that Vivekananda smoked throughout his life. As odd as this may sound to us, Nisargadatta Maharaj, whose seminal book I AM THAT is considered one of the greatest books on jinana yoga (the yoga of knowledge) of all time, also smoked. Not much, but he did indulge in smoking a few beedis now and then, the tiny hand rolled Indian cigarettes.

Nisargadatta’s book I AM THAT is one of my favorite books for spiritual inspiration. It is based on interviews and conversations with the saint, and is clearly words spoken by a spiritual genius.  Just like many Tibetan Lamas, however, Nisargadatta, also ate meat when offered to him.

Meat eating may not describe a “perfect” yogi if you are a vegetarian yogi like me, and smoking a cigarette or two per day, may seem a bit odd to us modern, or post-modern, health-freaks. But these activities do in no way qualify as material evidence to tarnish the spiritual character, teachings or inner realizations of a saint.

These words of Nisargadatta’s experience of enlightenment gives us a perspective on how it is possible to smoke a beedi or two and still be considered enlightened:  “I may perceive the world just like you, but you believe to be in it, while I see it as an iridescent drop in the vast expanse of consciousness.”

So far so good. The saints would be in trouble, however, if they used the same kind of spiritual argument to engage in the abuse of others. It may be OK to wear your own lungs down, Mr. Saint, but not the bodies and minds of others. That is not crazy wisdom. That is just plain crazy.

In order to judge these oddball saints fully, as spiritual teachers and as human beings, one needs to have intimate knowledge of yogic psychology, mystical states of mind, yogic practice and behavior.

One also needs to appreciate and understand, at least intellectually, the essence of their teachings. Neither Falk nor Sil P. Narasingha may have such understanding or appreciation. At least they do not reveal such insights in the writings and quotes used in this chapter of Stripping the Gurus.

Rather they seem to have another agenda: to dig up the dirt on famous yogis. And when there is no real dirt to be found, they make it up for you. And they do want to make that dirt stick!

I find it curious to learn that Sil P. Narasingha, the author which Falk bases 90 percent of his information on Ramakrishna and Vivekananda on, reviews his own book on Amazon, not only once, but twice, responding to another negative reviewer and giving his own book 4 stars, twice! That is hardly an ethical, objective, or detached act from someone claiming to serve us nothing but the dirty truth.

That said, there is undoubtedly some merit to some of the cases presented in Stripping the Gurus. And I do agree with Falk that sexual or other forms of abuse are grievous matters in a teacher student relationship. Such abuse should be taken seriously, and alleged abusive teachers should be investigated and, if found guilty, should be asked to step down.

Finally, Falk did ask his readers to report possible flaws or mistakes in the book. Please make a note of the few mentioned above, Mr. Falk.

About Ramesh Bjonnes

Ramesh Bjonnes was born in Norway and lived for nearly three years in India and Nepal learning directly from the masters of tantric yoga. He has written extensively on tantra, yoga, culture and sustainability, and his articles have appeared in books and numerous magazines and newspapers in Europe and the US. His forthcoming book on Tantra will be published by Hay House India soon. He is currently contributing editor of New Renaissance and a columnist for Fredrikstad Blad, a Norwegian newspaper. He lives in an eco-village in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. Visit his blog here: Eight Fold Path. His book Sacred Body, Sacred Spirit: A Personal Guide to the Wisdom of Yoga and Tantra can be purchased here.

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8 Responses to “Stripping A Chip Or Two Off Stripping The Gurus”

  1. Thanks for this rebuttal to Falk, Ramesh. I can't comment on this particular chapter. I'm going to contact Falk on his blog and suggest that he respond. I hope he does.

    I personally found <a heref="http://www.strippingthegurus.com/">"Stripping the Gurus" to be quite convincing on the whole, although I agree with you Falk gets a little over-excited over small flaws sometimes. Most of the flaws he documents are anything but small, however, and the blanket excuses "Guru knows best" or "You just don't understand the Eastern mind" don't cut it with Falk or with me.

    I hope others will come forward with support for or rebuttals to Falk. There is a whole website called "Guruphiliac" devoted to exposing false Gurus. I don't have the knowledge to evaluate any of these charges myself. But I do feel that guru abuse is a serious problem.

    Thanks for writing this.

    Bob W

  2. Geoff Falk wrote a detailed response on his blog athttp://www.geoffreyfalk.com/wp_blog/?p=5644 .

  3. Ramesh says:

    Bob,
    Thanks so much for your comments and for contacting Falk. I have read his response, and I may respond to some of the points he made, although it would be best if he responded here in person first. I think we all agree that false gurus are a problem. In fact, most of the teachers calling themselves gurus, should not have that title at all. There are very few authentic gurus in this world, and most of the so-called gurus that have come to the West are Swamis and thus teachers who have not yet arrived. Therefore, they are not gurus in the true sense of the word. The Sanskrit word itself (gu+ru) literally means someone who is able to guide a student from darkness to light, from ignorance and bondage to wisdom and liberation. Not a small task!

    In Tantra, there are a series of attainments one must achieve before one may earn such a revered title, and most of the teachers I have met and read about would not pass the test. So, part of the problem is that the title guru is being thrown about too loosely. People are put up on the guru-pedestal way too early, before they are ready to receive and properly guide adoring flocks of devotees…

    That said, it is difficult to have a civil dialogue about these complex issues, and I am glad Falk seems to have taken my criticism in strides, even though I may not agree with his response.

  4. Ramesh Bjonnes says:

    Here is another quote from falk's comment to my blog above: "No big whoop; only a “sensationalist” would even bother mentioning such an incident in the life of a sage widely viewed as “an incarnation of Shiva, Buddha and Jesus” (and the self-professed reincarnation of Shankara), chosen by the Lord “as His instrument to help Him in the spiritual redemption of humanity” … as Vivekananda is viewed as being.

    If Vivekananda was just an ordinary monk, Bjonnes’ points would be valid. But the rules for Saviors of Mankind (“even before their birth”) like Vivekananda, you see, are a tad different…." End quote.

    Vivekananda may not have been just an ordinary monk, because he was an extraordinary scholar, writer and orator, but it is news to me that he and his followers made such claims, and even if some of them did, his legacy is hardly based on such claims. I spent over a year in Calcutta, Bengal where Vivekananda lived, and I spent time at his ashram, but I never encountered the claim that he, like many Christians claim about Jesus, that he was mankind's Savior. Rather, his legacy is based on spreading the teachings of Vedanta, as Ramakrishna's foremost disciple, and as the first Indian yogi to reach the US.

  5. vakibs says:

    Ramesh,

    Once, there was a Yogi called Vemana who comes from my region Andhra in India and who composed fine poems in my language Telugu. I translate one of this poems below

    There exist swarms and swarms of people who specialize in fault-picking.
    Every person standing on earth suffers from faults.
    But the fault-pickers would never pick on their own faults
    .

    You can read translations of several other verses of Vemana here. But of course, they wouldn't sound half as sweet as when heard in Telugu :)

    That Falk fellow is probably an attention whore and I think you shouldn't indulge him with your time.

  6. Ramesh says:

    Thanks for the advise, vakibs and for the beautiful poem. Yes, the sweetness disappears in translation for sure…

  7. Micheal says:

    The people like the author of this book, I think, are utter idiots. Will they help the people by writing all this? Will be lift people out of darkness? Nope. They will just waste their time. Even in the intro of the book, the backcover, he is writing that Vivekananda visited brothels. Vivekananda was a pure, raging fire, full of infinite love and energy. and the author can easily discover that by reading a few books by Vivekananda.
    Just one thing: The author should actually read a few by Vivekananda. THis type of blasphemous conclusions as drawn by the author are totally unacceptable, utterly idiotic. He should do his homework.

    With love,
    Micheal(My cyber name)

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